Confluences

I came to Malindi because I didn’t realize how it was entirely separate from Watamu, which is just a part of Kilifi County. Interesting to see how things piece together from what you hear, and how all that beta is different from your actual experiences. 

At first sight, the beach was solidly unimpressive. Nothing like the glow and expansiveness of Diani, a beach so utterly captivating there was no one could renege on awe. It seemed almost like the Atlantic– flat, dirty, and weedy. I fell upon a crowd of women, all dressed up in their loudly colourful coast garments, huddled around a couple of fishermen selling their goods. I walked up there, my previous experiences having finally convinced me that in these situations, being approachable is hardly a bad thing. Indeed, I was rewarded.

I ended up going fishing with the crew of this fisherman for the next following days. In some ways, I fell in with the group, although the obvious differences between us were ultimately too great to be overcome with the normal interactions that otherwise would have been enough to meld together something good and lasting, even if it’s just in memory.

If I’m being honest, this whole exchange left me feeling a bit deflated. Like I wish things didn’t have to be this way. I woke up, and in the process of regaining awareness of the world and my body once again, was remembering what it is that I have to deal with today. Because there is always something. It feels like everything (well, a great deal of things) have been taken away from me this year. It teaches you how to deal without what you thought you had to have. I read something once that said, take everything that everyone knows about you, and that’s who you are. What sort of veneers do we mask ourselves with? In my time in different places, navigating varied social environments that are at times extreme and hyper focused on my presence as an outsider, I’ve come to pride myself on an ability to bring down certain walls, gather stories, even make some friends or moments worth going back to along the way. How we sat on the dirty sand beneath those piles of dead trees on the beach, waiting for the replacement boat to come in. Chewing khat leaves, Omar handing me a tablet of Wrigley’s gum to help it along. Peter pulling out a knife to pretend to slash away at the crazy boy, saying, his mind is not so good. And when the boat came, I followed them into the water and onto the boat, even smaller than the previous one, and we were off to haul in the nets cast from that morning. 

The first day I had come totally unprepared. Wore nothing except for Matthew’s old tshirt and some shorts, not prepared for the torrential rain that nearly overtook us. It was the coldest I’ve felt for a long while, the rain streaming into our faces as we crashed through the waves. I thought to myself in that moment, soon I will be dry and safe. These are the experiences that teach you to appreciate what all too easily becomes invisible to us– how delicious fish appears beautifully plated when you order it at a restaurant, how dry clothes and a comfortable couch no longer seem like luxuries, how you can spend 500Ksh like it’s nothing. I asked Peter how much they can expect to make, on a good day. And it’s just around that much, sometimes 50 bob, sometimes nothing. I wanted to ask them if climate change has been affecting their work, but I also saw how they were tossing plastic water bottles out as trash and how their nets dragged up corals and small tropical-looking fish that don’t seem like ones that are valued on the market. I had to close my eyes against the rain, hoping my backpack with my camera in it would end up being okay. The guys I were with– Peter, Kevin, and Omar– they were really nice to me, asking if I was okay, if I was cold. Peter offered me his jacket, which I had to decline– it was my own fault for not being prepared. 

Seeing how they cast the nets (they choose depending on how the waves feel) and haul them in, it’s work that is both monotonous and fun, depending on how things are going. By the end of the second day, I was feeling like I had cracked a bit of the edge or apprehension and the guys were more comfortable around me. They knew that I was a journalist and trying to learn about their work. We chatted about where they had come from– both Peter and Kevin hail from Nanyuki, the Mt. Kenya region, settling here due to their parents. I thought a bit about their build- how they are incredibly lean and muscled from their work. I was thinking about buying some fish from them, eyeing the beautiful barracuda they’d scooped up on Friday morning, and also asked them about mkunga, the fascinating snake fish I’d seen laid out on the beaches. Ni tamu, they said, it’s sweet. I asked them what they liked to eat best– ugali and choma, like true inland Kenyans. 

In the evening of that second day- the familiarity of those times having made our period of spending time together seem that much longer -  Safu told me that guys had been challenging him at the boathouse. Apparently there had been fights about who I would go with. In small towns, people always like to talk. There aren’t many visitors in Malindi and my presence amongst the fishermen had definitely been interesting enough to raise some heads. I’m a journalist, I wanted to say even though they knew. I am just so curious about things unknown to me and I want to learn, see for myself.

The greatest misunderstandings coming from Peter. I had always intended to pay them for letting me spend time with them. But he ended up thinking I wouldn’t, lying to Safu about how we’d agreed on something, and saying to him that he didn’t care about the girl, he just wants the money. I’m not going to lie, this really made me a bit sad. It’s too bad that it had to end this way.


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